The following article comes from Adélaïde Sorreau-Hervé, a French and Spanish international teacher in Malaysia.
With the right tools and mindset, organising a language trip can be a rewarding experience for both teachers and students. Having had the opportunity to participate and lead many of them in various settings I have a few tips to share with language teachers in order to minimise the amount of stress whilst maximising the positive outcomes.
First of all, it is crucial to think about the reasons why you are planning this trip.
Is your main objective to promote language learning at your school and increase student retention for key year groups? Do you want students to learn about particular aspects of the culture, practice extensively with native speakers or just have a memorable experience? Are you looking into collaborating with other departments to create bridges between subjects such as art, history or geography?
When choosing a place, making sure that there is enough to do in the city or nearby is very important. Remember that you will have to find a suitable hotel or hostel for your group if you don’t already have an exchange with a school over there. You might also want to contact a local language centre if you are interested in organising language lessons. In France for instance I would recommend cities like Nice, Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes and Rennes. They all have an airport and have a lot to offer in terms of landmarks and tourist attractions.
Here I recommend the head of departments to organise a meeting with the entire department to brainstorm ideas. From the beginning, all teachers involved should be at the heart of the project.
Once you have had this preliminary meeting with your team, write the rationale behind your trip and submit it to your senior leadership team for approval. The administrative steps vary from school to school but make sure that the person in charge of validating your trip gives you a clear overview of all the stages.
Tailor the trip to your students and your goals.
Once you have formulated your objectives, chosen which year group(s) you are taking with you and where you are going, it is time to think about the content of the trip. When it comes to planning activities it is important to think outside of the box and tailor the experience as much as possible to the interests and needs of the students.
Even if you are using an external company to help you organise parts of your trip, it is useful to anticipate that there might be some unexpected downtime in between excursions and not that many opportunities for students to actively engage with the target language.
In my experience, involving students by giving them choice and ensuring that activities align with their interests will make your life much easier. Of course if you ask your students to choose between a theme park and a museum they will choose the first option so make sure that cultural activities don’t compete with more popular ones. During this process I advise you to ask students to conduct their own research and if there is a place that you think is really worth seeing, take the time to explain to them the history behind the landmark. If you are thinking of visiting a museum, a castle or any other cultural site, it can also be helpful to find ways to engage students with the place: creating a story in which students need to find clues and solve riddles in order to learn more about the place usually works very well.
It is worth noting that as linguists and teachers, we take it for granted that students will know what to do with all the target language and authentic stimuli surrounding them (explanation signs, adverts, newspapers…). However, from my experience only the students particularly inquisitive and extravert will throw themselves into the target language world so I would recommend you to design activities around excursions that will give them autonomy. It can be as simple as making a gap fill or writing a few comprehension questions from an explanation board that students will see near a monument. During the trip you could also launch several competitions. An easy one, directly related to the target language would be “the best blog review” (everyday students post some pictures on a shared padlet and write a paragraph to talk about their day). You could also set a few Kahoot challenges to quiz students on their understanding of different landmarks.
The opportunities are endless but require creativity as well as time which the main trip leader might run short of at times so as a trip leader, once you have discussed with your team, you need to make sure that you empower your colleagues by giving them the freedom to run these little projects that will make a difference. A good trip leader coordinates, manages and has the overview of the plan. An amazing trip leader ensures that every team member has the space and tools to do their magic.
If you are doing it right, the team should be buzzing with excitement but to avoid overloading your them with meetings I recommend you to make the most of collaborative online tools (create a chat group on Gmail, make a shared folder on Google Drive, share an overview of the planning stages with the different teachers in charge and set reminders on Google calendar to check where everyone is at).
Being immersed in the target language your students will have the opportunity to practise their speaking skills.
What do you want them to be able to say? How are you going to make sure that they interact successfully with native speakers?
Try to picture your students in the target language country. Which opportunities will they have to speak the target language? Can you create space for some interaction with native speakers? How do these situations fit in your schemes of work? What linguistic tools will students need to successfully communicate?
In my experience, for many language learners, one of their goals (beyond successfully passing their exam) is to be able to communicate with native speakers on holidays. Although it might sound very basic to teachers, students feel very proud when they are able to order ice cream, buy souvenirs, ask for directions in the street or even introduce themselves.
As teachers we should tap into their drive to communicate in the target language by planning for success behind the scenes to ensure that all students feel confident enough to try. At this stage, this is the perfect opportunity for you to spot topics in your schemes of work that would enable your students to review key structures and vocabulary. Food and drinks for instance is a common topic that will definitely be useful to students on a trip so while you cover it during the year you might want to ask your class to choose a local restaurant, translate the menu and create their own role-play for instance. As an extension, you can also ask them to check the reviews in French or even write their own. Alternatively, if you don’t think that you will have the time to review these topics it might be useful for some students to create a flashcard with some prompts that can be shared with the whole group.
As I mentioned before, in between the main excursions I definitely recommend teachers to plan activities for students to practise the target language. To add an element of freedom whilst giving a sense of purpose you can organise a picture treasure hunt in groups of 6 to 9 with one teacher overseeing each group. In the same vein, asking students to conduct street surveys can be a fantastic way to help them build self-efficacy. These activities can easily be adapted to a range of learners by making different levels.
Visiting markets, asking for prices or buying ingredients before a cooking class is also a lovely way for students to see cultural differences whilst practising the language. If you want some input from a local native speaker, you can also hire a freelancer to lead a visit and answer students’ questions.
Again, to make it manageable, several members of the team should be in charge of creating each resource.
Making sure that the trip is an enjoyable experience for everyone.
This trip is an incredible opportunity for you to connect with students, so try to be a model and be their champion but most importantly be yourself (it’s okay to say that you have a headache or that you are dealing with something at home). I find that if you let students in and show them from the beginning that you are a team, they will in fact help you as much as they can. Once you have divided students into smaller groups and assigned them a teacher leader you can start building a feeling of community with your group (meet them before the trip to get to know them, find your team a name and establish rules, design a poster to hold when you need your group to spot you and follow you). Yes, you can do all of this in the target language too!
A few days before the trip you can start by giving students roles (translator in charge, student leader, photographer, the one who checks up on the other, equipment police, pathfinder… your imagination is the limit really). A few hours before departure (if your school allows it), create a WhatsApp group with the students you are in charge of (ideally with school phones for teachers). Then, distribute laminated cards to every student with teachers’ numbers, the address of the hotel/family and energy numbers. To make your life easier and to give students independence I recommend writing on a board or on a shared document key every evening key timing and what each group must wear or put in their backpack the day after. Last but not least, it is good to have a solid backup if the weather is not good so bring board games, check what’s on at the cinema and contact local libraries).